When the U.S. meets Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier this Friday in Kingston, its players won't be the only ones in ramshackle National Stadium wearing the stars and stripes. More than 50 members of the American Outlaws, the national team's most popular fan group, will be there on a three-day tour package that will take them to the game and to an all-inclusive resort across the island in Montego Bay. The Outlaws, known for their rollicking songs, raucous pregame parties and U.S. flag bandannas they wear over their faces, have become as much a fixture at U.S. games as the thumping reggae and the cloud of ganja smoke are at National Stadium. They've grown to 6,500 dues-paying members in more than 70 chapters across the country.
The U.S.'s World Cup qualifying region includes the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, places where rooting for Uncle Sam is equal parts Rough Guide and Graham Greene novel. "I can't imagine there's anywhere in America where you get escorted into the stadium and there's riot police with dogs and barbed wire around your section," says Korey Donahoo, a 30-year-old civil engineer from Lincoln, Neb., and the president and cofounder of the American Outlaws. While the welcome is warmer in Caribbean outposts such as Antigua and Barbuda (site of an October away qualifier) and Jamaica, the menace in other spots is palpable. Last month, when the U.S. defeated Mexico for the first time in 25 tries at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, the small cohort of Yank supporters had to be evacuated by police to escape a hail of projectiles from angry fans of El Tricolor.
The Outlaws have grown steadily since their formation in 2007, in large part because they don't skip any moment involving the U.S. men's team. Members travel in large numbers to U.S. cities for every home match—next stop: Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 11—hosting giant fiestas the night before and resuming the revelry with game-day tailgates. "There's a following of people that you always see," says Luis Arguero, a San Francisco--based fan who's been to games all over the U.S. and in Germany, South Africa, Switzerland and Venezuela. "There's a sense of adventure, a sense of pride. Traveling and soccer are two of my passions, so I kill two birds with one stone."
U.S. fans will be at every stop of World Cup qualifying through the end of next year, followed by the holy grail of World Cup 2014 in Brazil (provided the U.S. qualifies). The American Outlaws have already sold more than 500 packages, at a cost of $5,000 each, that include charter flights to U.S. game sites in Brazil, hotel accommodations and transportation for at least two weeks. "We'll be like a small town of fans in Brazil," says Donahoo, who has been saving steadily for the trip. Before they can drink all the Brahma in Brazil, though, there will be plenty of Red Stripe in Jamaica and Carib in Antigua and Modelo in Mexico. When you're an obsessive follower of the U.S. national team, the trail never really ends. That's the beauty of it.
THEY SAID IT
"When your own house is threatened, you stand at the door in your boxer shorts and with a pitchfork in hand to defend it."
Germany's Olympic discus champion, on how important it was for him to win at Sunday's international track and field meet in his hometown of Berlin.
KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS (HARTING)
JOHN TODD/ISIPHOTOS.COM (FANS)